Guest columnist Krista Koch on how she helped sow the seeds for a local farmer’s market.
This summer I co-managed an organic farm. I loved getting my hands dirty. I loved the labour required to grow something sustainable and nourishing.
But for all the personal pleasures, farming makes most sense to me in a community context—a sharing of the vision, the work, and the harvest. In fact, life in general strikes me as much more rewarding when approached in the spirit of community.
Building community, like growing food, is a labour of love requiring initiative, time and energy. But it truly is something anyone can do.
Chances are, if you’re concerned or interested in an issue, there are others out there pondering the same things. But ideas need catalysts—someone to get the ball rolling. Something to bring together kindred spirits.
For example, I often heard, “why is there no farmers market in the city of St. John’s?”
I knew the idea has been batted around for a long time, but summer after summer was going by without one.
So, when at the farm we were considering how to sell our late-season produce, I decided to organize a ‘trial’ market downtown. It was a chance to gage the level of interest, and bring together motivated individuals to talk about it. While it’s often easier for one person to offer up the initial spark, community work is ultimately collective work.
When organizeing a community event like a farmer’s market, you need a venue, and you need ways to get the word out.
Your choice of venue will depend on your budget, as well as your purpose, the turnout expected, and how people will get there (parking may be an issue). For the farmer’s market, I chose the Masonic Temple. It’s downtown, it’s big, and it’s reasonably priced.
Accessibility, for those with mobility impairments and for people with strollers, is a huge issue in this city, and one we need to lobby our representatives to address. The Masonic is accessible only through the rear entrance on Willicott Lane, a source of exclusion to many who, understandably, don’t feel welcome somewhere they can’t enter through the front door. The Lantern on Barnes Road is another affordable location with the same issues.
You can also look into churches, schools, community rooms at grocery stores, the Fluvarium, MUN. Just asking around you’ll discover there are lots of connections you can tap into.
Once you have your time and place booked, the key is making sure people know about it. Approaches will differ depending on the scale and purpose of your event, but to attract vendors for the market, I personally contacted the farmers I knew, and notified craftspeople through relevant mailing lists. To publicize the market, I sent out public service announcements (PSAs)—brief event notices—to local media. PSAs went out a week or two before the event.
Later, I sent out a press release closer to the date. Press releases are usually more detailed than PSAs. You essentially write the story of your event. Check out the Community Services Council website (www.envision.ca) for practical advice on PSAs, media releases, and media contact lists.
I designed and printed my own posters and put them up around town. Someone saw the poster and created a Facebook page about it. This was new to me, but Facebook is really an impressive tool. When I saw that 230 Facebookers had confirmed and another 200 were maybes, we decided to bring piles of produce down from the farm. …Good thing, since we all but sold out by the end, and an estimated 600 – 800 folks attended!
To make optimal use of the booked space and to build momentum, I scheduled a community meeting at the end of the day to discuss how to create a regular market for 2008. About 50 people participated and 6 committed volunteers took on organizing a second market, which happened a few weeks ago. Now a third one is being planned for early December, and the committee will work over the winter to set up regular markets beginning next spring.
Like farming, the most crucial step in the community organizing process is preparing the ground. Then we plant the seeds. With some careful, consistent tending, we’ll be amazed what we harvest together.
Illustration by Kira Sheppard.